Two academic from Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) have shared their thoughts on how education can help eradicate violent extremism as the International Day of Education is marked January 24.
Dr Leslie A Pal, founding dean of the College of Public Policy at HBKU, and Dr Susan L Karamanian, dean of the College of Law at HBKU, explain the role education can play in tackling this issue and in promoting peace and development.
According to Dr Pal, violent extremism is the result or effect of a host of factors and to get to the root causes is the way to tackle it. “That takes you to economic and social factors that create the conditions where people will turn to violence. We have tried to understand the economic circumstances that induce extremism, and persistent unemployment is a key one. We have tried to understand the role culture, ideology and misrepresentations of religion play, and so we have focused on populism. We have tried to figure out how people form their images of the world, the kind of news they rely on, especially through social media,” he said.
Dr Pal notes that higher education institutions are far removed from the conditions of economic poverty and social distress and they mainly focus on teaching and research, not on solving social problems or on advocacy or activism.
“However, higher education institutions still enjoy high levels of trust, precisely because they are somewhat removed from the front lines. Their research mission gives them the capacity to think more deeply about violent extremism and the best ways to tackle it. I think there are opportunities here, especially in working with partners and NGOs, to do a great deal of good over the longer term,” he explained.
Dr Pal, who has participated in the ‘Educate to Eradicate’ (E2E) forums at HBKU, says that if E2E is to be effective, it has to be threaded into educational policies, official development assistance (ODA) policies and global co-operation frameworks.
He commented, “On the educational front, terrific work is under way on developing tools for students and teachers at all levels. Regarding ODA, we have to deal with the reality that some species of violent extremism are bred in very poor and destitute countries, and so our aid to those countries has to incorporate an E2E component. Finally, violent extremism is confronting us as a global community. The UN and other international agencies know this, and are working hard to better coordinate their efforts.”
Meanwhile, Dr Karamanian maintains that education is essential in preventing violent extremism. She says, “Through education, individuals with differing social backgrounds and views of the world come together to better understand societal objectives. A classroom in which content focuses on respect for others and personal responsibility, as well as the development of analytical and problem-solving skills in a global environment, enables each person understand and formulate a view of self that has a benevolent purpose.”
According to her, universities typically foster a dynamic environment, one that encourages community members to question and engage in open debate. “Key to achieving this mission is the right of each member to engage in free speech. Yet the right to free speech, when used to promote extremism, could undermine a meaningful sense of security on campus and even lead to violence. In the ideal world, even the most insulting words would cause a listener to question and reject the message, which itself is a learning experience,” she highlighted.
Dr Karamanian feels that educators should instill in students the ability to discern fact from fiction and to think critically and independently. “In today’s world, endless messages, readily available on many online sources, have the potential to shape the narrative. Educators need to develop in their students the communication skills, both verbal and written, to be effective advocates. Finally, students must have a strong understanding of history,” she concluded.
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